One month ago today, Callie Marie came into our lives. Here is her birth story…
Callie’s due date, Thursday, January 26th, 2012, started with a few tears. Despite the fact that I wanted Callie to wait for her induction date of Jan. 30th for maternity leave purposes, I was a little disappointed that our little girl hadn’t decided to make her appearance yet. I rolled my huge pregnant belly out of bed and got ready for school, taking time to actually do my hair and put on a sunny yellow sweater in an effort to look cute so that I didn’t feel like a giant fatty. School was busy and filled with last minute directions and preparations for my long-term sub. I waddled down the halls fielding all of those end of pregnancy comments like “I can’t believe you’re still here!” and speculations of when the baby might come. I was confident that Callie was snug inside of me and wasn’t going to be coming out until her induction that coming Monday. After all, I had just been to the doctor the previous day and was told that my cervix was still closed…no progress. All day, I had felt fine- if you count being exhausted as fine- and had no reason to think that our little girl would be on her way that night. It seemed like any other day. Boy was I wrong…
Due date (and absolutely no clue)
When I got home from work, I planned on letting the dogs out and then running out to buy my husband, John, a present- a new money clip from me and Callie. I had to go to the restroom first though. That’s when the trouble began. After going, I noticed I had tremendous swelling “down there” and actually thought that the baby might be coming out. I called the doctor and they urged me to call 911. I had no idea what to do…I hadn’t felt a single contraction…surely this couldn’t be it, right? After calling John, who urged me to listen to the doctor’s advice, I called 911 and an ambulance appeared after a few minutes. By this time, my swelling had gone down a little bit, but I was still very uncomfortable and incredibly nervous. The paramedics put me in the back of the ambulance and, after examining me, decided that I was not an emergency, but that they would transport me to the hospital anyway. John got there right at that time and I asked him to ride with me because I was so scared. Later, that turned out to be a dumb move because we were stranded there at the hospital without a car, but in the moment, it seemed like the right thing to do. The paramedics were so nice…they drove us all the way to the neighboring hospital (bypassing the local one) just so I could be at the hospital we had planned to deliver in with my doctors. I can remember feeling so nervous and embarrassed about calling 911. John was just grinning from ear-to-ear, excited to become a daddy. I love him for that.
After getting to the hospital and getting all set up, the labor and delivery nurse told me I was 1 cm dilated and hooked me up to all the monitors. I began to start to feel small contractions and they were spaced closely together, but not very strong. The doctor thought that my swelling could have been due to having a potentially large baby that was messing with my circulation a bit. I smiled at the thought of having a big, chubby baby girl. The nurse guessed that it was likely a false alarm, too early on in labor, and that we would be going home after a bit of monitoring. That prediction couldn’t have been further from what actually happened.
Shortly after hooking me to the monitors, the nurse asked me if I had eaten much that day or drank much water. She said she was thinking that the baby seemed a little sluggish because I hadn’t had enough to eat and drink. I had eaten a normal lunch but it had been a while since I had eaten prior to going to the hospital and I could have done better that day with my water intake so I figured she was right. They hooked me up to an IV to see if the baby would ‘perk up’ and I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but prayed that the IV would help and secretly hoped that they wouldn’t send me home because I was ready to meet our little girl.
After more monitoring, I noticed the look of concern on the nurse’s face. She told us that the baby’s baseline heart rate was ‘flat’. Her beats per minute were fine, but that her heart wasn’t being very reactive to labor. Later, someone explained to me that having a flat baseline was not a good thing because the heart should accelerate and decelerate a bit in response to the contractions I was having. Instead, Callie’s did not react much at all…just kept beating away at the same rate. That’s the best I can understand it at least. The doctor came in and decided to keep me since Callie’s baseline had not perked up. At that point, my contractions were getting much stronger and I was about 3 cm. John and I were so excited to get the green light to stay…we were going to have a baby! But, at the same time, we both felt so nervous. In my heart, though, I never felt like something terrible would happen. I had this reassuring feeling that everything would be ok, so even though I was nervous, I never feared that something bad would happen to Callie. John called my mom to tell her the good news and she hopped in her car to drive the four hour trip up to Northern VA. She was so excited to be a nana that she didn’t care what time it was.
Since we had finally gotten the word that we would be staying, the nurses and doctor reassured John that I had a ways to go and that nothing exciting would be happening in the time he was gone so John asked our neighbor to come pick him up so he could grab our car, the baby’s bag, and his Daddy bag. I got into a lovely hospital gown and hunkered down for the rest of labor. A while after John left, the heart rate monitor started going crazy. Callie’s heart was making the strangest noises and rhythms and it sounded anything BUT normal. Nurses rushed into the room and turned me to my side and put an oxygen mask on my face. The crazy rhythm didn’t stop. I was terrified, but tried my best to stay calm and take deep breaths like the nurses were asking me to do. Literally as soon as the doctor stepped into the room, Callie’s heart beat returned to normal like she was playing a practical joke on everyone. The doctor took a look at the ‘strip’ and examined me and said that the baby had a deceleration and that if this happened too many times that she would need to take her out via C-section. She also said that they wanted a better way to monitor her so she applied an internal fetal heart monitor to Callie’s scalp…which freaked me out, but I knew they needed to do it in order to keep track of her heart better.
I called John and told him what had happened and urged him to hurry back to the hospital. I know he felt terrible for not being there when that happened, but there was no way for him to have known. When he had left, we just thought the baby was a little sluggish or sleepy, not in danger. As John walked back into the room, I instantly felt that relief of having my husband by my side. I must have looked so scary to him being hooked up to oxygen and having to lie on my side. I was just so glad to have him back. The entire time, my nurse rarely left our room and was constantly staring at the baby’s monitor, keeping vigil. After laboring for a while more, the doctor came to check on my progress only to find that I was still holding strong at 3 cm. She decided to break my water to help labor along. Let me tell you, that was a weird feeling!! Breaking my water made my contractions intensify and I eventually decided to get an epidural to help with the pain. Epidurals are AWESOME! I was then able to relax and distract myself by watching the Jersey Shore. Nothing helps ease my nerves better than Snooki and Pauly D. Oh, and John. John was the best labor coach in the history of the world. He was reassuring, comforting, and calm. I am so lucky to have him as my husband.
The rest of my labor is kind of a blur. I know that at some point, the doctor decided to give me Pitocin because my contractions were not getting me anywhere. And I know that Callie’s baseline continued to be flat so I had the oxygen ongoing and I would have to periodically switch sides to see if it would help anything. It felt like there was a long stretch of time where everything was just the same. I can’t remember now if this happened once or twice, but I know for sure that Callie’s heart decelerated at least one more time in the early hours of Friday morning. The nurses rushed in again along with the doctor and after having me switch sides and take deep breaths, the doctor said she did not feel comfortable having me labor any longer. It was time for a C-section. My mom had arrived by this point and she came in to say hi as John changed into his scrubs. I am so glad she was there too.
And then, there we were in the OR. I remember being lifted onto the table. I remember John coming in to be my side. I remember the anesthesiologist soothingly talking me through the surgery as he stood near my head. And then, I remember the moment the doctor pulled Callie out of my womb. She made the faintest, tiniest cry…and then nothing. A horrible, awful silence that was the loudest and worst sound I have ever heard. I can remember the nurses rushing Callie to the side of the OR without bringing her to us first. All I could think is “Cry, please cry, please cry, please cry.” But she didn’t. I remember hearing someone say the word “epi” which I knew (from all of my Grey’s Anatomy watching) meant that something was wrong with Callie’s heart, but I had no idea that her heart had completely stopped. John told me later that he could hear the doctor counting as they did CPR on Callie to resuscitate her…. they tried to do it as quietly as they could so as not to frighten me. That must have been torture for him to hear. As my doctor worked to sew me up, I stared into John’s eyes and prayed…prayed that Callie would be ok. I will never forget the look of concern on his face and the tears welling up in his eyes…he fought them for me, trying to be strong for me so that I would make it through the rest of my surgery ok.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (but mere seconds at the same time), the doctors and nurses asked John to come over and see our baby girl. They had restarted her heart, but it had taken 15 minutes to do so. Callie had gone without oxygen for 15 minutes…15 freaking minutes!!! I don’t know when we first learned that it had taken this long, but I do remember that it shocked me. It had seemed like a long time, but not 15 minutes. Callie was a fighter for sure. As John walked over to meet Callie, I can remember the anesthesiologist telling me that there was something wrong with her hands and feet. As a teacher, I have worked with several students with physical disabilities and I asked the doctor if Callie’s hands and feet were like those of some of my students. He said no, that her fingers and feet were very long and that when babies are born with problems like that on the outside, that oftentimes, there were problems on the inside too. When John came back from seeing Callie, he was pale and his eyes were red from crying. It was then that I knew that Callie was not going to be ok… I could see it in his eyes even though he tried to reassure me. Later, John told me that when he went to Callie he could see the nurses’ and pediatrician’s hands shaking. To him, having a doctor shake like he had been rattled was the ultimate sign that what was happening to Callie was rare and scary.
After John came back, the nurses brought Callie to me wrapped up in a blanket and with a breathing tube in her mouth. Seeing them breathe for her by squeezing the air pump was terrifying…and she was grey, so pale and grey. I told Callie how much I loved her and begged her to be strong and to fight like hell…and she did. Callie was the strongest little baby I know to have endured all that she did in her short time on earth. Before I knew it, they had whisked Callie away to the NICU and John was faced with the gut-wrenching decision of staying with me or going to be with our baby. I told him to go be with her. “She needs her Daddy,” I said. And so he did. A hush fell over the OR as he left the room. The doctor worked on finishing the C-section and the anesthesiologist rubbed my temples and asked me to take deep, deep breaths.
Meeting Callie for the first time
My thoughts during that time were a jumble of emotions: fear for Callie’s life, worry for John, and an overwhelming desire to understand what in the world had just happened. Why? How? I had an incredibly normal pregnancy. I took my prenatal vitamins each and every day. I never missed a doctor’s appointment. I had FIVE ultrasounds…count them, FIVE! How could I have just delivered a baby with so many problems and not have a single clue that something was wrong????? I wanted someone to blame. I wanted to point the finger at my doctor and tell her that she screwed up. I was mad and completely terrified of what lay ahead for us.
After I was all sewn up, the nurses wheeled me into the recovery room. My mom came to me then and I finally let out the emotions that had been pent up inside of me. She told me that Callie’s heart was in trouble and that she needed to be transferred to Children’s Hospital in DC. I couldn’t believe that my little baby girl, who had seemed so healthy throughout my pregnancy, was now needing emergency transport to a specialty hospital. The weather was so dismal that they couldn’t get a chopper in for her (A CHOPPER??? FOR A SIX POUND BABY?? Another shock of how critical her condition was…) so a transport team was being sent from Children’s by ambulance. Mom asked permission to go with Callie on our behalf because John was in no shape to drive (being up for over 24 hours and going through trauma did not make for the best driving conditions) but I told her no. Callie needed her Daddy. So, instead, my mom asked if it was ok for her to drive him there since he was not allowed to ride with Callie. I’m so grateful she was here during our time of need. I couldn’t imagine what it would have felt like to have had John get in some sort of accident in the rush to be by Callie’s side.
And then, just like that, I was alone. Alone and shaking in the recovery room. Without my baby, without my husband… my arms were empty and I was all alone. I couldn’t believe that just the day before, Callie had been safe and sound inside me and now, in the blink of an eye, I was utterly alone. After an hour and a half of shaking and ‘recovering’, I was told that I could leave and that Callie was still in the hosipital’s NICU awaiting transport and that they were going to take me there to see her before she left. Although I was grateful to see her, I was annoyed that she hadn’t left the hospital yet. What could possibly be taking so long? Isn’t this an emergency? Later, I found out that Callie was fighting for her life and was not stable enough to transport during that time.
The nurses brought me up to the NICU and wheeled me into the room where Callie was lying, hooked up to a breathing machine and all sorts of tubes and cords. This was the first time that I got to see her whole body up close. She was still so pale and her head had to be tilted up at an odd and uncomfortable looking angle to accommodate her breathing tube. That was the hardest part for me to see. After getting over this shock, I noticed her long, thin fingers and the way the thumb on her left hand was crossed unnaturally across her fingers. Her feet were also long and thin and they were tilted upwards. Her hips tilted to an angle. Seeing her like this was the most surreal moment of my life. All I could think of was Why?? How?? Again, I couldn’t comprehend that this was our baby. I kept thinking, “Where is our real baby? This has to be some sort of mistake.” And it wasn’t. But, I loved her…oh, how I loved her. I held her hand and John’s as a priest was called in to baptize her. And then, it was time to say goodbye again. I kissed Callie’s hand, and kissed John goodbye and was whisked out of the NICU as the transport team worked to take Callie away.
Callie in the NICU
The longest trip of my life was the journey from the NICU to my room on the maternity wing. I wept the whole way as I passed by rooms where I could hear babies crying… Perfect babies that were healthy and hungry, crying for their mommies to feed them or change them or hold them… Babies that could be held, cuddled, and comforted in their mother’s arms. As I was wheeled down the long hallway, the nurses watched me pass with looks of sympathy on their faces. And it was so, so quiet… except for my weeping. The nurses lovingly put me into my bed and stroked my face and told me that they were sorry. I remember that when I looked up, there on the wall was some sort of baby advertisement that made me sob anew and they graciously took it down so that I didn’t have to face it anymore. And then they left, and I was all alone watching the clock tick by and wondering where Callie was right then at that moment, wondering if she was still alive, and praying like you wouldn’t believe.